Thursday, January 1, 2009

The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

Book Description:
Here is the magnificent saga of proud and passionate men and women and the turbulent times through which they suffer and triumph. They are the Truebas. And theirs is a world you will not want to leave, and one you will not forget.

Esteban - The patriarch, a volatile and proud man whose lust for land is legendary and who is haunted by his tyrannical passion for the wife he can never completely possess.

Clara - The matriarch, elusive and mysterious, who foretells family tragedy and shapes the fortunes of the house of the Truebas.

Blanca - Their daughter, soft-spoken yet rebellious, whose shocking love for the son of her father's foreman fuels Esteban's everlasting contempt... even as it produces the grandchild he adores.

Alba - The fruit of Blanca's forbidden love, a luminous bearty, a fiery and willful woman... the family's break with the past and link to the future.

My first book of 2009...

This is one of the books that has been on my TBR list for a long time. I'd always heard about it and often wondered what it was all about, what was so great about it, why was it considered such a great book. After reading it, I still wonder...

Yes, it's the story about the Treubas, a South American family (I think it's supposed to be in Peru, but the events described are more like Chile). It begins around the turn of the century with the del Valle family. A wealthy family with many children, one of whom is beautiful Rosa with long green hair, reminiscent of a mermaid. She is engaged to marry Estaban Treuba, a poor miner, who is trying to save up enough money to marry her. She dies unexpectedly and he eventually marries her younger sister, Clara, and so starts the dynasty of these strange women down the generations. They are mystical and dreamy and of another world, Alba, the youngest being the most grounded of them all, and the most modern. Esteban makes his fortune and become the patriarch of the family, who nearly outlives all these women in his life. He is like a bull, strong, domineering, lustful - often the complete antithesis to the women he loves.

I enjoyed reading about the passions and turmoils that went on in this family over the generations, but at the same time, I always felt like an outsider looking in, not privy to what is really going on with these characters. There's not a lot of deepness in the storytelling, it all seems a little 'matter of fact.' Most of the story is from Clara's and Alba's point of view, telling their family story, and then sometimes it goes into the first person of Esteban, telling his version of the same story at 90 years of age. Often in the narrative, there would be a sentence that would foreshadow a future sad or cataclysmic event, which tended to bother me. (We find out why the story is written this way at the end of the book.) I wanted more feeling and emotion, it seemed distant to me. The events that occured, when monumental to this family, were told in such a way that I couldn't really feel for them, I didn't cry once or get teary eyed. We see how this family survives the political back and forth of governments, and the last 100 pages are especially gripping in describing Alba's story and her lover, Miguel, a Communist guerilla, but I still wasn't moved.

I'm glad I read the book, but was it one of the best books I've ever read? Certainly not. But, it did have it's memorable moments, which will stay with me, and I got a glimpse of life in Latin America during this sprawling time period and how calamaties such as earthquakes and government coups can destroy so much. But yet in the face of destruction, so many brave people survived and were able to claw their way back to life again when all seemed so lost.


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